Two months of living with HIV. Are you ready to talk about it?
Receiving confirmation that you’re HIV-positive may have been a surprise to you two months ago. If it was, that affects the way you approach your diagnosis, and the resulting effect on your life, wellbeing, and lifestyle. The good news is: you’re not alone.
Can you believe two months have passed since your HIV diagnosis?
Receiving confirmation that you’re HIV-positive may have been a surprise to you two months ago. If it was, that affects the way you approach your diagnosis, and the resulting effect on your life, wellbeing, and lifestyle. The good news, however, is: you’re not alone. You have resources, like our AllLife HIV website, at hand to guide you through this strange time in your life. Maybe you were worried about your HIV test results, but now you know your status. Well done! Your next step is figuring out the path ahead.
Allow the reality of your HIV status to settle in.
Living with HIV is your reality now. Hopefully, here at the two month milestone, it’s starting to sink in that you can do this, and you can adapt to living with your HIV status. You’ve been on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and your body has been through the ringer while adjusting to your ARVs.
You might remember that at the one month milestone we discussed who needs to know about your HIV status. If you need a quick refresher, or if today is your first visit to our website, click here to load the previous article.
The challenge of talking about your status
It’s perfectly okay if you haven’t yet told anybody that you’re HIV-positive. The most important thing, even now at two months into your life with HIV, is that you’re taking your ARVs regularly, and prioritising your own thoughts and feelings about what’s happening. If your doctor, nurse or clinic sister changed your medication, have you provided feedback about any changes you experienced, good or bad?
Remember that the best chances of living a long healthy life come with the responsible approach of keeping your medical team informed of how you feel at every step of the way on your treatment plan. As your side effects subside, so will the sense of stress, panic or fear that you may have experienced at first. Some days will still feel lonely if you’re not talking to a counsellor yet, so ask your doctor, nurse or clinic sister if you can be referred.
If you’re worried that someone might recognise you at a local clinic or counsellor, you can contact our HIV Helpline at any time of day or night to talk about how you feel and ask for advice on addressing the situations you experience. Our HIV Helpline is a 24/7 benefit for our AllLife clients, and your confidentiality will always be respected.
Who do you tell?
Here’s the thing: you have the right to privacy. Nobody can force you to disclose your HIV status; not to him/her or to anybody else. It’s your personal choice who you talk to about this, and if you talk to anybody at all. We recommend applying the ‘6 Ws’ to this situation:
- Who do you need to tell?
- What do you need to tell them about your HIV status?
- What are you expecting of the people you want to tell?
- When should you tell them?
- Where is the best place to tell them?
- Why are you telling them?
Going through these questions helps you figure out the finer details of disclosing your status. Preparation is always the most important thing for when you’re faced by the experience of sharing intimate and life-changing information about yourself with your loved ones. You’ll feel better equipped to have the discussions and feel in control of how you’re going to tell them.
Prioritise your internal conversation with yourself.
Your diagnosis may change the way you feel about yourself, in unexpected ways. It’s quite common for people who have been diagnosed with HIV to go through a wide range of emotions and experiences, as they adjust to living with the virus. You should expect to go through similar but remember that you have the support you need, all the way.
Battling depression, or managing low self-esteem, are common enough that they have been well-documented and catered for in various support programmes for people living with HIV. You may be worried about the future, concerned about your health, and flustered over how this diagnosis will affect your life.
Lean on those who support you, and know this: you’ve got this, and you’re not alone in it. You can always find more information on our dedicated HIV website until you’re ready to use other resources like our HIV Helpline or to find a counsellor in your area.
Manage your relationships with others.
There’s a bit of a tricky element to this: telling someone you’re HIV-positive is known as the act of disclosure. Many of the ways in which this is done is actually governed by the law! For example, your employer cannot, legally, force you to disclose your HIV-status. But, if you are having a sexually active relationship with a partner, you should tell them your HIV-status. If you’re worried about how you’ll talk about this with your partner, your spouse, your friends, your family, or even your colleagues, don’t worry – you’ve got this and we’re right behind you, to help! There’s a big rule around disclosure that you can abide by: you don’t need to tell anyone you don’t want to, unless you’re in a sexual relationship with them, or it’s possible that you’ll transmit HIV to them.
How to tell your partner about your first two months of living with HIV
Being in a sexually active relationship may be an important part of your life. Sex is a wonderful, pleasurable experience, that should be enjoyed by consenting adults. And, whether you’re in a relationship, married or not quite yet ready to settle down, one thing is important: that you do it safely and respectfully.
Respect your partner, and keep each other safe. With that respect, comes trust. If you’re in a relationship of any type, you should talk to your partner about HIV. We understand that this may not be the easiest discussion, and that it can be downright terrifying for many people but it is necessary.
Tips for discussing your HIV status with your partner/spouse:
To help you work through the stress, anxiety and fear of having this conversation with your partner, we’ve got a few points you can refer to:
- Keep it simple.
- Stick to the facts.
- Make room for you to feel all the emotions that will come.
- Make even more space for your partner’s emotions around it.
- Don’t apologise. Your HIV status is now a fact of life. It can’t be undone or removed.
- Understand that this may create a complex situation in your relationship, and you’ll need to stay open to the process and outcomes.
- Relax. You are not the first person who has to have this conversation. There are many relationships affected by this; you are not alone. You’ve got this!
- Consider counselling, and be clear about whether you’re willing to engage in this with your partner, to help navigate this development in your relationship and your diagnosis.
- Discuss the test results. If you’re HIV-positive and your partner knows he/she is HIV-negative, it might be worth agreeing on another test.
- Talk about the future. How will it affect your relationship, and your goals as a couple?
- Talk about safe sex. If you’re HIV-positive and your partner is HIV-negative, you should adopt the safe sex approach; if not from day one of your relationship, then definitely from now on!
Understand the consequences of your decisions to tell, or not to tell, your partner
It’s not a legal requirement to tell your partner about your HIV status, but if you consider yourself to be an ethical and fair participant in your relationship, it’s necessary to do so. Think about how you would feel if it was your partner that was HIV-positive and you were still HIV-negative – wouldn’t you appreciate knowing this information? Keep in mind that there are serious legal repercussions down the line for you if you know you’re HIV-positive, intentionally choose not to tell your partner, and they contract the virus from you. So, be responsible.
Your HIV diagnosis is an unexpected experience for you both, and it’s a life-changing one. Be it family or financial planning, your goals as individuals and as a couple may be affected by this change. Break down what’s important and offer time for your partner to discuss these things. Just the same way you went through a rollercoaster ride of emotions from the day you received your diagnosis, your partner may go through the same and it may take a few weeks and some emotionally charged expressions to reach a point at which you can both begin to comfortably discuss your future together.
How to share your HIV status with family and friends
Be kind to yourself by remembering that living with HIV is still a fairly fresh concept for you. You’re under no obligation to disclose your status, especially not all at once, to all of your loved ones. Just two months into this new lifestyle, adjusting to strong medication, processing your own emotions and thoughts – how can it be expected that you take on more than you’re ready for?
If, by now, you’ve made the decision to begin speaking with an HIV counsellor, it’s worth asking for advice on when and how to tackle this next hurdle. Your counsellor is best positioned to advise you because he/she is trained to assess your own emotional state as well, and can let you know if you’re emotionally ready to take on more on your journey through your first year of living with HIV.
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The opportunity to gain and give support
One of the merits of braving the decision to share your HIV status with your family and/or friends is that it enables you to access more, and different kinds of, support channels. Family and friends are usually champions of protecting our best interests, but when it comes to HIV, the stigma can be a challenge for them and for you. Now that it’s been two months, you would have probably read more about HIV on our website, and learned about how the virus works, how your medicine works to keep your viral load low, what food and lifestyle changes you can make to help you stay healthy and so much more. By keeping your doctor informed, and asking him/her all your questions either by email, on a phone call, or when you visit the clinic, you’re empowering yourself with knowledge that you can also share with the people you love most. You have the power to help others in your life understand that it’s very possible to live a long, healthy and happy life with HIV.
Tips for talking to friends and family:
Here are some tips to keep in mind if you’re considering sharing your HIV status with family and/or friends:
- You have the right to privacy. Remind whoever you are speaking to, about this. He/She may not disclose your HIV status to anyone else, unless you provide permission to do so.
- Keep it simple and straightforward.
- Learn the facts about HIV before going into the conversation. By being able to answer questions, you’ll also appear more in control of the situation, and the likelihood of panic-stricken family members and friends will be greatly reduced.
- Talk about your treatment programme. Your loved ones will want reassurance that you’re also using every opportunity to take control of the situation, so this is a major relief point that also abates panic and fear.
- Don’t be afraid to express your emotions around your HIV status, and give them the space to do the same.
- Be clear about what kind of support you would like from him/her/them as you progress into month three of living with HIV. Many times, the people closest to you might hurt you with their reactions simply because they don’t know what’s appropriate at that moment, or have uncertainty about what to offer as support.
If the thought of telling family/friends gives you serious anxiety, you don’t need to tell them. There are other sources of support available to you, like counsellors, support groups, clinic roadshows, and our HIV Helpline.
But what about your boss, and your colleagues?
Under South African law, you are not legally obligated to disclose your HIV status to an employer, or to a company that you are applying to work at. Your HIV status is your business, and employers cannot force you to disclose. If, however, during the time you are adjusting to your treatment programme, you need extra time off, or you are battling with any side effects of treatment, consider informing your employer of your status. It may help you get the support you need in the workplace, but the decision is entirely yours.
Similarly, telling your co-workers and colleagues is entirely up to you. Carefully consider the reasons why you would want to disclose your HIV status to an employer, co-worker, or colleague. If you need more guidance in considering this decision, speak to your counsellor, doctor, or clinic sister.
Living with HIV is about finding the right headspace.
We’ve considered every aspect of your first year of living with HIV. We understand the social, emotional, mental, physical and spiritual challenges that go along with a life-changing diagnosis like this. For this reason, we want to walk you through things step by step. Whether you’re telling all of your loved ones, sharing your HIV status publicly, or just keeping it to yourself, our resources and information are always here for you to visit online.
As you head into month three of living with HIV, you’re going to experience some of the challenges we discussed today. If you attend a support group and some of our tips help you confront your disclosure challenges then share this article with your peers, too. You’re not alone, and nobody has to be. HIV is completely manageable, and we want you to know that we’re here for you every step of the way. Take the next few weeks step by step and browse our HIV website if you need more information. We’ll have the next touchpoint with you at your three month milestone.
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Shkodzik, K. 2018. Living with an HIV-positive partner? 8 things you should know in advance. Flo. 27 November. Available online at: https://flo.health/menstrual-cycle/sex/stis/living-with-hiv-positive-partner [Accessed 20 January 2020].
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